Lumberjack, Lumberer, Woodsman
“A man generally recognized as a separate species, as is shown by a newspaper account of a steamboat accident in 1912, which reported that “three men and a logger were drowned.” In short, a man well worthy of our attention”-Tall Trees, Tough Men p. 53
All my life I have been fascinated with the lumber industry. I remember as a little girl seeing the “islands” out on the Kennebec between Gardiner and Augusta, and wondering what they were all about. My mom told me they were built by people, they weren’t natural, but she wasn’t sure why. I think that is kind of funny now, because she also told me stories about how she was young in Millinocket and she remembers the logs floating down the river, and the men jumping from log to log. These events are directly connected, although miles apart. Following the logs down the river, I began to understand.
During my term of service in AmeriCorps, with the Maine Conservation Corps, I was able to travel all over the State of Maine. While I have lived here my whole life, I got a whole new outlook, and much more knowledge about different areas. My first Field Team was assigned to Scopan outside of Presque Isle, cutting a new hiking trail. Coming from a fairly humdrum life, and starting a little late at 28 (most AmeriCorps members are 18-24), I was going to sink or swim at this hardworking endeavor. Running a chainsaw, pulling trees up by their roots, and swamping it all into the bushes after hiking into the site took some time to get used to. It rained every day during our first 9 day hitch, and I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into. Our Team Leader, Jared Ress, decided it was a good time for our weekly education hours, and we went to the Ashland Logging Museum.
We met the caretaker of the museum, who was very excited to have guests. He was very informative. There were tools everywhere, and a replica of the kind of cabin that the loggers would have stayed in when the industry first began. It was amazing to think that these people came to Maine in the winter, without roads to get places, traveling either by boat or over the snow, to work 10-12 hour days of backbreaking labor. Although fed many meals a day, and able to get warm clothing on credit even if they didn’t have the money, it is hard to imagine.
“There were no bunks and no chairs. The men ate standing, out of a common kettle. For a bed, fir and hemlock boughs were sometimes screwn on the bare ground and on these was laid a twenty-foot-wide spread stuffed six inches thick with cotton batting. When one of those things got wet, twenty men could hardly lift it. Such spreads were still being used on the drive as late as 1930. On top of the first one was spread a second, and about a dozen men crawled in between, lying spoon fashion. Those great covers were especially hard on small men sleeping in the center. If a man wanted to turn over, he cried, “Flop!” and everyone, without waking up, flopped. Old woodsmen aver that the worst thing about them was when some man would crepitate underneath them. And of course, the inevitable lice found them a favorite roosting-place.” – Tall Trees, Tough Men p. 91
The logging camps, beginning in the early 1800’s, were built as needed. The men would come up the rivers, as the river were the way to get the logs out of the woods when the time came, and find a stand of trees to manufacture the buildings out of. They did not use nails initially, they had wooden pegs. They split their own shingles, and built the whole structure from what they had available and a few tools. They would live in this structure through the whole winter. At first they used only axes, then saws, and then at the end they had available but rarely used chainsaws because they were so heavy. The men felled the trees and moved them to the waterways. Helped by teams of horses and oxen the giant trees were kept intact as much as possible. Mast trees were the most profitable; trees that were very tall and very straight made it possible to build the ships of the time. After 1880, larger organizations and corporations took hold of the industry, and from 1890 to 1910 the lumber industry reached its peak in Maine (Pike, 1967).
Next week we will follow the logs from the logging camps to the mills.